How Does the New Corpse-Dissolving Machine Work?

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Since the dawn of civilization, we have disposed of our dead primarily in two ways: burial and burning. Now, there's another option: liquefaction.

Resomation Ltd., a Scottish company, has installed its first commercial "alkaline hydrolysis" unit at a Florida funeral home. According to the BBC, the unit works by submerging corpses in a heated, pressurized solution of water and potassium hydroxide, which liquefies all the soft tissue in less than three hours. The bones are then removed from the unit and processed in a "cremulator," the same machine that crushes bone fragments into ash following cremation. Metals in artificial joints, dental fillings and implants are removed also. [How Long Do Mafia Victims Take to Dissolve in Acid? ]

The liquefied body tissue can then be poured into the municipal water system. Tests show that it's sterile and contains no remnants of DNA.

Developers of the alkaline hydrolysis technology are billing it as an environmentally-friendly alternative to cremation. They claim the process produces a third less greenhouse gas than cremation, uses one-seventh of the energy, and allows for the complete separation and disposal of dental amalgam the mercury-containing metal alloy used to fill cavities. Mercury released by amalgam during cremation is a significant source of airborne mercury pollution.

"Resomation was developed in response to the public's increasing environmental concerns," company founder Sandy Sullivan, who trained as a biochemist, told BBC News. "It gives them that working third choice, which allows them to express those concerns in a very positive and I think personal way." [10 Weird Ways We Deal With the Dead]

The machine's installation at the Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St. Petersburg was only made possible after the Florida state legislature approved the use of the technology, according to the BBC. The process has been legalized in seven states, and Resomation hopes that its smooth operation in Florida in the coming weeks will lead to legalization in other places, including the United Kingdom.

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Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.